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  • Radford Bean

Check the Weather Before You Paddle

Canoe & Kayak magazine recently reported on the death of former CEO and co-founder of North Face, Doug Tompkins, who died as a result of hypothermia he suffered when his kayak overturned in rough conditions while paddling a lake that borders Argentina and Chile. The report doesn't say if he was wearing a dry suit, but doctors who treated him say his age played a factor in his death.

What the report did point out is that Doug and those in his party failed to check the weather forecast. Waves on the lake at the time of his capsizing were measured at three meters (10 feet), way too high for kayaking or canoeing.

Doug's party also failed to notify the port captain before launching.

All the kayakers in the party were considered experienced, yet they forgot one of the most basic rules of paddling: Always check to see what the weather will be before setting out on a paddle.

Rex Bryngelson, a longtime sea kayak guide who runs a fishing lodge near the lake, stated, “The lake’s huge and with the crazy winds down here, especially at this time of year; it can get nasty out there quickly,”

A similar thing happened earlier this past summer when a group of paddlers, most of them inexperienced, set out for a paddle on Puget Sound. Winds from a storm that moved in quickly capsized several of the kayakers, and three of them wound up drowning.

Let me stress a critical point one more time. Always check the weather report before you set out on a paddle trip. Weather forecasts can be wrong—just ask any of us who have lived here in Oregon awhile—so It's also a good idea to paddle with someone who has knowledge of the area and possible weather conditions. Paddling with someone, like a Rex, who is familiar with the area you're paddling might help prevent the kind of disaster that befell Doug and his party from happening to you.

Let someone know where you'll be paddling and when you should be returning back to shore. Doing so will help authorities locate you should you become separated from your boat as a result of an accident.

Finally, if you're not familiar with the body of water you'll be paddling, don't paddle alone; bring along a fellow paddler. Canoe & Kayak magazine reports that Doug was in the frigid water for a couple of hours and needed help getting towed to the shore because the wind kept blowing him farther out into the lake as he tried to swim the 200 yards to shore. If other kayakers hadn't been along to rescue those who capsized, the story could have had an even more tragic outcome.

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